In a first, the sports ministry announced on Friday that five athletes – cricketer Rohit Sharma, wrestler Vinesh Phogat, table tennis player Manika Batra, India women’s hockey captain Rani Rampal and Paralympian Mariyappan T – will be conferred the Khel Ratna Award, the country's highest sporting honour!
Mariyappan Thangavelu (Para-Athlete)
Won a gold medal at the Rio Paralympics, India’s first at the Games since 2004. In 2019, Thangavelu — who competes in the high jump – won a bronze medal at the World Para Athletics Championship. He is the only the third Indian para-athlete to be awarded the Khel Ratna award, after former Paralympic medallists Devendra Jhajharia and Deepa Malik.
Rani Rampal (Hockey)
Since 2017, this hockey player has contributed immensely while leading the Women's hockey team to major victories at international levels. Being a captain is not everyone's cup of tea but Rampal made the captain's role look so easy because she chose to see it as a responsibility rather than a burden. She has played a crucial role in the FIH Olympic Qualifiers in 2019 by scoring the deciding goal that helped in India's qualification for the Tokyo Olympics. Due to her captaincy, the team also climbed to a career-best FIH World Ranking of No.9. She was also the first from India to be named as the World Games Athlete of The Year 2019. Rani has also been the recipient of the Arjuna Award in 2016 and the prestigious Padma Shri award in 2020!
Manika Batra (Table Tennis)
Manika Batra is one of the unsung heroes who have attained so much in her career yet she is not recognized at a wider scale. Debuting at a very young age, the paddler became one of India’s best paddlers. She is also the only Indian to have received The Breakthrough Star Award by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF). She had achieved her career-best ranking in 2019 after ranking 47th in the world becoming a top-ranked female table tennis player in India. She went to win several gold medals in the South Asian Games and the Commonwealth games. For the all these achievements, the paddler currently ranked 63rd in the world will now get the Khel Ratna. A sigh of relief! That she chose table tennis and making the nation proud on many occasions.
Vinesh Phogat (Wrestling)
Coming from a family who is already successful wrestlers, Vinesh Phogat has lived up to her family with all her triumphs. Her family has faced a lot of criticism from their community but it did not stop her to be become a wrestler and becoming the first Indian woman wrestler to win Gold in both Commonwealth and Asian games. She is also the First Indian Athlete to be Nominated for Laureus World Sports Award. She is only an Indian woman wrestler to earn a Tokyo Olympics berth. If she is awarded the Khel Ratna then she will the second female wrestler to earn it.
Rohit Sharma (Cricket)
Everyone Indian might know this person due to his out-of-the-world batting and earned the title of ODI Cricketer of the Year by the International Cricket Council (ICC). He is not only an exceptional batsman but also a match-winner. The Arjuna awardee has scored 39 international centuries making several records given his powerful hitting gaining the name "Hitman". A unique record he holds that he is the only player to have scored three double centuries in ODIs. In T20 international cricket, he holds world records for most career centuries and most career runs among many of his other records. He is also the skipper of Indian Premier League's franchise Mumbai Indians that has won four times under his leadership. He is also the third-highest run-scorer in IPL after Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina. He is only the fourth cricketer to be honored with this award after Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli.
The award will be held virtually on August 29, the National Sports Day, instead of the Rashtrapati Bhavan this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The award comprises a medallion, a certificate, and a cash prize of ₹7.5 lakh (US$11,000). Being a national sports award, it is a privilege for any sportsperson to achieve it. From 1992 to 2019, only 38 sports personalities have earned this award. The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award can be given a maximum of three persons in a year, however, for a change it has been given 5 sportsperson. The awards, including the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, are given away every year on August 29, the birth anniversary of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand, which is also celebrated as the national sports day.